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The "therapeutic footprint" of medical, complementary and alternative therapies and a doctor’s duty of care

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Sanderson, C. R.; Koczwara, B.; Currow, D. C.

Complex societal factors unrelated to evidence of efficacy influence the increasing use of complementary and alternative therapies, which can be viewed as one form of health consumerism. The "therapeutic footprint" is a conceptual model that "plots" medical therapies and complementary and alternative therapies in relationship to one another and to their levels of risk and supporting evidence, acknowledging that medical therapies also entail risks. Philosophies about management of risk and adverse effects differ between complementary and alternative therapies and standard medical care, due to fundamental differences between professionalism within medicine and the demands of health consumerism. In standard medical care, patients’ risks are mediated prior to treatment via the doctor-patient relationship and informed consent. With complementary and alternative therapies, protection mechanisms for consumers come into effect mainly after a problem has occurred. Understanding this difference helps doctors whose patients are using complementary or alternative therapies to define the boundaries between these therapies and professional medicine and provide appropriate disclosure of risks. Discussing complementary and alternative therapies and how they differ from standard medical care can provide opportunities to explore patients’ concerns and improve the therapeutic relationship.

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